If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

Written by Taylor Baker


Halsey’s 4th studio album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power first came to life for audiences in IMAX Theaters on Wednesday August 25th as the backing score for a 53 minute feature film by the same name. Directed by Colin Tilley, Halsey (the actress) uses her magnetism in conjunction with garish (in a good way) and gaudy costuming to weave a nameless tale. If you played the If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power Mobile Game as I did briefly you may already have an inkling of the dark direction the film reaches by the end. Which implies more meaning than it actually delivers on. As do the immaculately executed bits of face-painting and make up that adorn Halsey’s mug throughout the film. Which add a level theatrically that goes a long way to compensate for its shortcomings.

One can’t help but wonder in the era of COVID, with restrictive travel and the difficulty that accompanies running public events, how the medium of a film companion to an album may pay off. Both to the artists and the record label. The gains and losses that come from replacing a live concert with a film through which a communal experience can be had with an artist are numerous, but a one night pre-recorded world tour probably costs the studio a lot less. Beyoncé notably used this medium to varying success with Beyoncé: Lemonade in 2016 and Black is King in 2020. Kacey Musgraves upcoming Star-Crossed indicates the experiment hasn’t been deemed a poor investment by the music industry just yet. It is worth noting that not a single one of these entries including If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power reach the heights that I Am Easy to Find from The National or Anima from Thom Yorke did with half the runtime of these features or less and quick and easy access through YouTube and Netflix respectively. That may indicate the deeper issue that faces these visual album companions, less is more when switching modes of expression, and if you stretch the runtime of the new mode without quality and meaning within it’s language, in this case the filmic language, regardless the quality of the album it can’t prop up or even save the film. For film sound is only one third of the equation. Whether this matters to the fans of a particular musician or group and thus the record labels profit margins remains to be seen.

In If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power deeper meanings are fumblingly forced on the viewer through aerial cuts to the castle indicating a deeper meaning, perhaps domesticity, perhaps foisted identity. Then again a forced deeper meaning of the woods, perhaps sanctuary, perhaps danger. The editing is jarring, as songs end so to do scenes in sharp cuts to entirely different locations. This isn’t a smooth, continuous, or engrossing soundscape. And I don’t intend to indicate that is what pieces like this need to be. But rather traits I’ve observed from some of the best I’ve seen from this vein so far. It failed to keep me enthralled within the film as we journeyed with Halsey from the event of the king, her husband’s death at the beginning to the birth of her child. We’re made to wonder at most of the film’s events both mortal and mythological. I can say, and with conviction, that the beauty that may be found within the amorphousness of her new album and it’s lyrics do not translate here. But that doesn’t mean it’s uninteresting or dull to watch, just that it’s off, in a way that isn’t entirely surprising for a first time director or writer. For fans of Halsey or music film enthusiasts If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is an interesting attempt to translate an album to the visual medium worth engaging with, for most others I suspect you’ll be asking yourself, “What the f*** did I just watch?”

If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power Trailer

If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power premiered in IMAX on August 25th and has additional screenings planned through the end of the month.

You can follow more of Taylor’s work on Letterboxd and Rotten Tomatoes.

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